I take to the lesson tee; not to instruct, but to learn. It happens every so often, when I feel the urge. My first lessons came when I was 13 or 14, just prior to tearing the rotator cuff that ended my baseball days. I next worked at a local practice range, where I traded hours for lessons and practice shells. In college, I took a pair of lessons from a fellow. After joining the work force, it was a while before I reconnected with the lesson tee, but by then, I had more at stake.
In addition to my day job and my work with BuffaloGolfer, I’m a high school golf coach. I’m with teams during the fall and spring seasons, and I have the opportunity to work with a number of young golfers. They come from different places, headed toward myriad goals. What they have in common, is a desire to improve. It behooves them to have a coach who continues to learn. I try to be that guy.
I went to Lonnie Nielsen in the early 2000s, and asked the pro if he would take me on. He interviewed me, asking me why he should. I explained that I knew that I might be fortunate enough to coach golfers who had a shot at high-end college opportunities, and that I wanted to be able to help them toward that next level. My own competition career had never reached those heights, but that was no excuse for me to not be prepared to help in any shape or size. He liked that answer, and we worked together until he headed out onto the Champions Tour.
Thanks to his guidance, when golfers who ultimately played at St. Lawrence, Robert Morris, Allegheny, Mercyhurst, Vanderbilt, Texas, and the US Naval Academy came to my teams, I was able to slow my roll and pay attention to theirs. I was no more than an extra set of eyes (and a pair of hands that drove the little bus) but those eyes and hands were what they needed from me.
When Lonnie passed away in early 2021, something ignited in me. It was the notion that I needed to advance, to find someone to fill his shoes. I listened and read, and found that instructor. I drive 65 minutes for lessons now, and save up my spare cash (returning pop bottles, stuff like that) to pay the freight. It’s worth it for me, beyond what words can say. I have an incredible comfort and confidence in my swing as it develops. It wasn’t a bad swing, but it can always get better.
To give an idea of how I play, I finished runner-up in a club championship 30 years ago, when I was 26. I was under par for the first round, then gassed a bit in round two. At that point, I chose family and fatherhood over competitive golf, and satisfied myself with my own, internal competitive goals. During the summer of 2021, I played precisely one competitive match, and that was a four-ball, at the behest of our host, a college friend. He and I found ourselves down quickly to our opponents, but I knew something: my swing would work. I had put in the hours and learned the lessons, the most important of which was trust.
To shorten the story, I made birdie at 14, 16, and 18. We won the back nine and the overall. My partner and I put the spoils of victory ($5 bills) on our trophy shelves. What I knew was this: my swing would do what it was trained to do, thanks to my new professional and his method. I trust the process, I believe in the methodology, and I know that the results will come. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I try to share it with the kids on the teams.
The funny thing is, they hardly ever see me play. Back in my high school days, our coaches played all the time…usually more than they coached! Thanks to great coaches in the area, like Nate Leary of Orchard Park, high school coaches now focus 100% on the athletes. It’s always a surprise to the kids when they see me go through my prep, execute, and succeed.
My gifts to you during these holidays, are a series of words. Resist the siren call of the latest driver, a new set of irons, or some wedges that you will never spin back like a professional does. Instead, find an instructor and commit to an instructor. Most will offer a discount on a lesson series, and the buy-in from you will make them work harder for you.
What you will gain will not fit inside your golf bag. It will define the way you carry or push that bag, and what you achieve with its contents. You’ll gain entry into a compatriotism with a skilled instructor, and membership in a stable of learners that share that teacher and her/his/their philosophy. In a time of uncertainty, such a connection is more valuable than any clinquant, like shiny titanium.
Peace and Happy New Year